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Richard McWhannel’s discovery of Southern Texas

Reviewed by John DalyPeoples

Richard McWhannell, Christo Rey, Morning

Richard McWhannell, From El Paso to Encinal: The John Wayne Tour

Orexart

Until March 3

Reviewed by John Daly-Peoples

Richard McWhannell’s recent exhibition “From El Paso to Encinal: the John Wayne Tour” is  record of the trip he made through Southern Texas in 2019.

He has titled the exhibition  “The John Wayne Tour” as  the purpose of the trip was to transport a portrait of John Wayne  from El Paso to Encina for friend. This seemingly trivial rationale is not unlike the basis for many of the tales of the wandering cowboy ontheir picaresque  mission.

Accompanying the exhibition is a written account  of his journey which brings together personal notes about the journey, references to the history and culture of the area along with musical and film references.

One  wall of the gallery features more than a dozen small to medium sized works which are like a display of postcards documenting the journey. There is a small portrait of “John Wayne” ($2600), who inspired the trip along with images of the places the artist visited. many of these places have resonances with songs and films associated with the area.

Richard McWhannell, Rosa’s Cantina

There is a  painting of “Rosa’s Cantina” ($2400)  made famous by the Marty Robbins ballad “El Paso” as well as famous buildings such as the Palacio Federal ($4600) in Nueva Laredo and less important places such as the Three Palms Motel, Presidio ($4600) and the  “The Concordia Cemetery, Shafter” ($4200),  the resting place of many names of Texas history including the infamous gunfighter  John Wesley Hardin.

The artist also pays homage to the great  contemporary western “Giant”  with a couple of paintings of the large installation works by the American artist  John Cerney which celebrate the actors and set of the film. One of these “Reata Homestead and Rock Hudson” features the façade of the house used in the film and Rock Hudson in his car. The other, “James Dean” ($4600) is of the actor with a gun slung over his shoulders. The portrait of Elizabeth Taylor which Cerney also installed is not included.

The two large landscape of the dramatic mountain Christo Rey ($12,500) which show it changing from morning till evening feel as though they could be the beginnings of the artists own series of works like Cezanne’s “Mont Sainte-Victoire”.

Images of sites such as  “Christo Rey” and  “Nueva Loredo” also see the artist delving into the contentious history of the area  with Donald Trumps wall just over the horizon in the  Christo Rey paintings and the contested area of Nueva Loredo. There is also his painting” “Rio Grande at Castelon” ($4200) where the narrow river which is the border between the USA and Mexico is no barrier to people wanting to cross.

With his limited palette the artist manages to give a sense of unreality to many of his vistas and views, managing to convey the vastness and ruggedness of the area. He also captures  the desolation and bleakness as well as  the seemingly impermanent nature of the buildings. Taken altogether the works present a surreal vision of the landscape providing a metaphor for the bareness of the political and social framework of the place.

By johndpart

Arts reviewer for thirty years with the National Business Review

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